Asking for a major gift is best done in person.

Major Gifts for Beginners - Part 1

Dear Fr. Zagloba,

That’s terrible news!

I thought the technician told us we could get another two years out of that furnace. I’m sorry Father. This is not what you need right after Christmas.

However, I do not think we should deplete our ‘rainy day fund,’ not yet at least. I think maybe God is giving you an opportunity to ‘put out into the deep.’ I’m talking about major gift fundraising.

What is major gift fundraising?

Major gifts fundraising is based on the idea that it takes less effort to ask for $10,000 than it does to ask for $5, two thousand times. To succeed, you just have to ask the right people, at the right time, in the right way.

I suggest we start with something I call ‘introductory major gifts’ because a full-blown major gifts campaign takes a lot more time, energy, and stress than you have right now.

Start with the right people

Major gift requests can give even the most hardened fundraiser a case of the cold sweats, but I don’t think this will be all that bad.

You only have to raise $43,000 to fix the furnace. I just got a grant for exactly that amount, so this is absolutely doable.

A few gifts should be enough to take care of this whole problem. We just need to be asking people who can give sizeable donations.

Step 1 – Getting Organized

The first step is to ask Carmen to pull a report of the top 30 donors over the past year. This may sound counter-intuitive, but study after study shows that your biggest gifts will come from your biggest givers. Why? Because they already support the Church at a high level, and they will respond warmly to a request for a big gift.

Even if they have to say no, they’ll feel honored that you thought that they would be able to make a larger contribution. These parishioners also are likely not to give you the cold shoulder or interrogate you.

Step 2 – Book Appointments

The next step is to take your list and make 30 phone calls. I recommend you do this yourself. You may have to call multiple times because you should not leave voice mails asking for donations. Asking is always best done in person.

When you call, just say, “Hello, this is your parish priest, Fr. Jacob. First off, I want to thank you for being such a huge supporter of the church. I’m calling to see if you can help me. I have an unexpected problem to start the year: the furnace has gone up in smoke. I’d appreciate if I could speak with you in person. When on [day] would you be able to have a cup of tea with me?”

If you do have to leave a voice message, only say, “Hello, this is your parish priest, Fr. Jacob. When you have a moment, please do call me back at your earliest convenience at [phone number]. Thank you, and may God bless you.

Aim to make 30 appointments to meet with each parishioner individually. Give yourself at least 45 minutes to one hour to meet with them. Yes, there is a bit of a time commitment, but by investing the time to meet and speak with them individually, parishioners will thank you for speaking with them in such a personal manner, rather than just mentioning it to them quickly after Mass.

Step 3 – The Tough Part

When you have a parishioner (either alone or with their spouse), I recommend you take the time reconnect with them. This is an excellent opportunity to learn how they are doing. After a warm cup of tea (or iced tea), explain to them that the furnace has gone up in smoke, literally and that it will cost $43,000 to replace it. Ask them to prayerfully consider if they can make a gift of $1,000 – $5,000 to contribute to making the replacement possible.

I suggest using open questions, such as, “What would you say to donate between $1,000 to $5,000?” Open questions offer parishioners the opportunity to share more openly their thoughts. Closed questions, such as “Will you” or “Can you,” don’t offer parishioners the time or space to think because you are immediately moving them to a yes/no decision.

Repeat this 29 times. Chances are some people will say no. Other people will say yes. And, it’s always possible that one or two will say, “how dare you to ask me.” The first group won’t hurt you, the second will bless you, and the third will give you an opportunity to thank them and praise them for their current generosity profusely.

Step 4 – Compelling Stories WORK

Father Jacob, this will work better than you expect. Will it raise all $43,000? More than likely, although even if you fall short of the goal, it will take a huge bite out of the total bill and preserve most of the rainy day fund.

And yes, I think this is a good reason not to take the easy route and just drain the bank account.

A good story, a compelling need, this is the fundraiser’s “silver bullet.” It often makes the impossible a reality. I have an Uncle from Canada who travels with his family doing praise and worship concerts. They go all over the place in their RV, sometimes going to two or three different cities in a week. Their RV was dilapidated and needed replacement, but they couldn’t raise nearly enough money to get one.

Then one day the wheels fell off. Literally. They were traveling on the coast of Canada, 3,000 miles from home, and the rear axle broke off. They were stranded, and the RV wasn’t worth repairing. They got on email and social media and showed photos of the broken axle. They explained the need and the fact that they were stranded. Without the money to fix the RV, they could not go home.

And by gum, it worked. Within a week and a half, my uncle and his family were back on the road in a new RV paid for in cash.

God is in Charge!

Father, I recommend you share your story, rather than sell it from the pulpit. Too often I hear appeals during and after Mass, selling to parishioners an idea.

Just think of this: When you were in the basement, smelling the smoke, then locating the burning wiring, and putting it out with the extinguisher, you were in the right place, at the right time. Thanks be to God.

Thanks to providence, we do not have to build a new church, or even worse, bury our priest.

What’s $43,000 compared to that? Pennies. Thank You, Jesus!



P.S. Let me know how the calls go, and we’ll figure out where to go from here.

Need some new ideas on how to fundraise? Check out The Fundraiser’s Playbook and find the fundraising strategy that will work best for you!